Uniting with their countrymen around the world, more than 200 Southern California Ugandan Catholics celebrated the feast day of martyred St. Charles Lwanga and his companions at St. Genevieve Church in Panorama City June 3.San Fernando Region Auxiliary Bishop Gerald Wilkerson presided at the parish’s Sunday 12:30 p.m. liturgy commemorating the 22 Ugandan martyrs canonized by Pope Paul VI on Oct. 18, 1964, who died for their faith just 78 years earlier. St. Lwanga, who was converted to Catholicism by a missionary priest while serving as chief page at the court of King Mwanga, raised the ire of the king by instructing the younger male pages in Christianity as well as protecting them from the king’s sexual advances. For refusing the king’s demand to renounce their Christianity, St. Lwanga and a dozen companions were burned to death at Namugongo on June 3, 1886, among several Anglican and Catholic Christians martyred for their faith between 1885 and 1887. Their sacrifice sparked the growth of Christianity, now the dominant faith in Uganda, where the entire country honors and celebrates the June 3rd feast of the courageous martyrs.Noting that most of the Ugandan martyrs were 25 years of age and younger, Bishop Wilkerson said in his homily that the young martyrs are great role models for Christians living in today’s secular society.“I wonder how many of us would be willing to give up our lives as these young men did?” pondered the bishop. “It is not that easy today. We are swayed by popular opinion. We are moved one direction and the other. We must ask for the intercession of those courageous young men who held onto their faith despite everything — even willing to end their lives after a very short time because their belief in God was stronger than their willingness to go against that faith.”“The Ugandan martyrs are so inspirational to me because of the way they sacrificed their lives because of their faith,” said Joseph Ssentongo, who carried a picture of martyred St. Joseph Balikuddembe in the entrance procession. “They all had chances to stay in the palace had they agreed to do whatever the king would say, but they chose not to do that. They chose to go with their faith, which is something very extraordinary.”“The Ugandan martyrs’ feast day is a very big day to Ugandans because we commemorate those young boys who died — the king wanted them to worship him but they decided to say ‘no’ and worship the Lord,” said Charles Wamala, treasurer of Uganda Catholics in Southern California who helped coordinate the celebration which also included Anglican and Muslim participants.“We celebrate not only as Catholics but as a Ugandan family with people of different denominations. It brings us together in our diaspora — it kind of makes us feel that we are home.”Specious Nakirigya, a founding member of the St. Genevieve’s Ugandan martyrs celebration who came from Orange County to sing in the choir, said the martyrs have a special significance to youth.“These were young men who were having a good life,” he noted, “but they got the word of God and when their king was telling them to abandon the new faith, they decided to get burnt instead of [obeying the king].” Nakirigya, who frequently attends Uganda Catholics meetings at St. Genevieve on the second Sunday of the month, says the organization has really grown since its inception over a decade ago.Fifteen-year-old Brian Mutetikka said the Ugandan martyrs are inspiring because they give youth an example of how strong faith can be and what people have gone through to show that they have great faith in God.“I probably relate to St. Kizito because he was the youngest, and he shows that even the youngest have strong faith — because he died at 14 — so he is close to my age and he kind of gives me an example of faith that is really strong,” said Mutetikka.Virginia Marrufo, 80, a 60-year parishioner at St. Genevieve who attended the post-liturgy luncheon in Madonna Hall wearing an African print dress, said she thought the Mass commemorating the martyrs was beautiful.“I think we should all be one, and this, to me, represents being one,” said Marrufo.{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/0615/uganda/{/gallery}